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February 7, 2012

H-4 Work Authorization and Other Reforms to Attract and Retain Highly Skilled Workers

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Last week, Department of Homeland Security announced several proposed reforms to "attract and retain highly skilled workers." These reforms include employment authorization of certain H-4 spouses and other concrete incentives.

DHS released a press release describing these administrative reforms, which would impact the benefits and the adjudications process in several different ways, ultimately benefiting employers, universities, scholars and workers (and their spouses):

  • Allowing H-4 dependent spouses to apply for EADs (employment authorization documents) if the principal H-1B spouse has extended their period of stay under AC 21 Section 104(c) or 106(c)
  • Expanding STEM OPT extensions to F-1s whose underlying or previous degrees were STEM related, even if their current course of study is not a STEM major
  • Expansion of the list of eligible STEM majors
  • Allowing F-1 spouses to engage in part-time studies other than vocational or recreational classes
  • Giving universities and colleges more flexibility to increase the number of DSOs or Designated Student Officers at universities and colleges to meet both the administrative and guidance needs of incoming students
  • Increase the type of evidence that Outstanding Professors and Researchers can provide in order to establish eligibility to include "comparable evidence"
  • Allow for the 240-day continued employment authorization of E-3s and H-1B1s upon timely extension, which is already the case for H-1s and L-1s

    At present, the proposed reform to allow EADs for H-4 dependent spouses is in rulemaking, though at a very early stage. We should be prepared to hear updates on the process of each of these administrative reforms, though we have been notified that changes will take time. It is still encouraging in that we have some concrete information on how such reform will impact the highly skilled workers and their spouses who are waiting in the priority date queues or just beginning to prepare for H-1Bs, labor certifications, national interest waivers, extraordinary ability workers and outstanding researcher or professor petitions, etc.

    If you are interested in learning more about these administrative reforms, be sure to subscribe to our blog for updates. If you have a case that you'd like for us to assess, call the business immigration law attorneys at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong. ---ecf

  • September 23, 2011

    EB-5 Success Rates

    plant growing from pile of coins.jpgThe EB-5 attorneys at Law Offices of J Craig Fong want to report about the recent EB-5 stakeholders meeting which took place recently. Probably of most interest are the EB-5 success rates reported by USCIS. In general terms, the Department of Homeland Security reports that in Fiscal Year 2010, approximately 110 initial Regional Center proposals were submitted and approximately 36% received approvals in the initial adjudication.

    Evidencing a major increase in regional center filings, DHS reported that 176 initial regional center applications were received in the first three quarters of Fiscal Year 2011 (October 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011). Of those, 46% were approved upon initial adjudication and 23% were denied upon initial adjudication. The attorneys at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong are consulted regularly by investors seeking regional center certification.

    It's been no secret that EB-5 regional center filings are on the rise and that the program which has been in existence for years is gaining popularity again. Although approval rates seems are encouraging, investors know that the program is obviously, not without enormous risk. The LA Times reported earlier this month about some of the problems still plaguing investors. Contact the business immigration attorneys at Law Offices of J Craig Fong if you would like a consultation regarding regional center certification and/or the traditional EB-5 program. --ecf

    September 10, 2011

    H-1B Quota Numbers September 9, 2011

    In the last month, usage of H-1B numbers have continued to crawl upwards:

  • The regular H-1B cap has seen an increase from 25,300 petitions received to 32,200 as of September 9, 2011

  • The advanced degree cap has moved toward the 20,000 cap from 14,700 petitions received to 16,700 received as of September 9, 2011

  • With California unemployment rates hitting 12.1%, it looks like the H1B program may remain open for the long-term, ultimately giving H-1B job seekers additional time to find offers of employment. If you are an F-1 student on OPT seeking an appropriate H-1B job offer, please remember that maintaining status is crucial unless you are able (and willing) to consular process. ---ecf

    April 4, 2011

    Chinese Companies Suspected of Fraud

    It's H-1B season and the business immigration attorneys at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong are busy once again fielding phone calls and inquiries regarding employment-based visas, including those of L-1 and new company visas. In the past few years, the USCIS and US Department of Labor have suspected newer and small companies of fraud, especially within the immigration system. New procedures and increased scrutiny of employment-based cases have made H-1B petitions and H-1B visas especially more difficult to attain.

    Handshake.pngToday's Wall Street Journal ran a story about the very disturbing trend revealed by the Securities and Exchange Commission that small private companies are merging with public shell (dormant) companies instead of going through more rigorous methods of becoming public, avoiding initial public offerings. SEC Commissioner, Luis Aguilar announced that since January 2007, 600 of such "backdoor registrations" occurred and most notably, more than 150 of these occurred in and around China.

    It's no secret that the USCIS, as part of the US Department of Homeland Security (USDHS) is engaged in "national security, fraud detection and prevention." The DHS now has an unit attached to it which investigates corporations suspected of defrauding the government specifically through the H-1B program and other visa categories. This has made adjudications of all H-1B applications much more difficult and I believe we will see strict review of all H-1B and work related applications. ---ecf

    March 19, 2011

    Expedited Processing for Japanese Nationals Affected by Earthquake and Tsunamis

    The USCIS this week provided information on the types of immigration applications for Japanese nationals who are affected by disasters caused the earthquakes and tsunamis last week. In limited circumstances, the USCIS can expedite the processing of the following types of requests/cases:

  • requests for extensions or change of non-immigrant status even if the request is made after the applicant's stay has expired
  • re-parole of individuals who have already been granted parole by USCIS
  • expedited processing of advanced paroles
  • expedited adjudication and approval for requests for off-campus employment in the case of F-1 students suffering economic hardship
  • expedited employment authorization

  • If you or someone you know is eligible for these services, please contact the attorneys at Law Offices of J Craig Fong for assistance in making these applications to the USCIS. ---ecf

    March 11, 2011

    Earthquake in Japan: Tsunami Warnings for Hawaii and West Coast

    Japan: an 8.9 earthquake has rocked Japan today, marking the most powerful earthquake in Japan's recorded history. This quake is the fifth most powerful in the world since 1900, says the U.S. Geologic Survey. Tokyo reports massive aftershocks. Narita Airport, Sendai Airport remain closed, although Haneda Airport has reopened already. The immigration attorneys at Law Offices of J Craig Fong who practice in business immigration, family-based immigration, removal defense and appellate work extend sympathy and concern to all our Japanese clients and those with family and friends abroad who are affected by this devastating disaster.

    Over the years, the immigration attorneys at Law Offices of J Craig Fong have worked proudly in the Japanese immigrant community, having represented multinational executives and managers for some of Japan's largest corporations, professors providing invaluable research and teaching in top U.S. universities, professional employees working in companies based in Little Tokyo and in Japanese American non-profit organizations, and of course, countless individuals and families of Japanese descent.

    With early reports of the death toll, the true damage the earthquake has caused remains unknown at this moment. We do know that this earthquake may cause tsunamis powerful enough to engulf or wash over small islands in the Pacific causing more damage and posing continued danger to those in the Pacific. For clients wishing to return to Japan in the weeks to come, please call the attorneys at Law Offices of J Craig Fong for guidance on how to check the US Department of State for travel warnings and other restrictions. ---ecf

    February 15, 2011

    Employment Authorization and Advance Parole Cards

    Clients who file their permanent residency applications through Law Offices of J Craig Fong are always advised to use employment authorization and advance parole (often referred to as "travel permit") documents with caution. As of February 11, 2011, USCIS has begun issuing employment authorization and advance parole documents in ONE SINGLE CARD, and as a result, the attorneys at Law Offices of J Craig Fong are concerned that applicants for permanent residency do not utilize the card without a careful analysis of whether using the card might jeopardize their current status or prevent them from re-entering the US after traveling abroad!Screen shot 2011-02-15 at 12.59.51 PM.png

    For many applicants who are applying for greencards through employment, using an employment authorization card with a company other than the sponsoring employer can be a violation of the applicant's current non-immigrant visa status. In some cases, this can result in a denial of the entire adjustment of status application!

    It is very common for some applicants to be granted the advance parole document by USCIS, although leaving the country, even with the advance parole in hand, could bar them from re-entering. This scenario is typical for those who face the 3 or 10 year bar because of unlawful presence. Please contact the attorneys at Law Offices of J Craig Fong if you or someone you know is applying for permanent residency. ---ecf

    January 31, 2011

    H-1B Cap Reached, Now What can I do?

    So the H-1B cap for FY 2011 was finally reached on January 26, 2011. Petitions delivered to a USCIS service center on the 26th, will undergo the H-1B lottery, and if you "win" a slot for the coveted last day to submit an H-1B for FY 2011, your case will go on towards adjudication. Petitions that do not get "chosen" through the lottery, will be returned, along with filing fee checks and all documentation.

    For the rest of you reading who are still looking for a job, or perhaps using your time on OPT which may expire in the next few months, the obvious question is "what next?" Aside from getting your petition ready for an April 1, 2011 filing (allowing an October 1, 2011 start date), the options care woefully limited.

    F-1 students with degrees in the so-called "STEM" majors (science, technology, engineering and medicine) can apply for an extended OPT period. Others may be out of luck if they can't find a job offer that is H-1B eligible. Other than extending F-1 status by pursuing another degree or perhaps some type of certificate program in your major, some people will opt for a J-1 internship which allows professional graduates to work for up to 18 months in an internship program that is certified by USCIS through a J-1 sponsoring organization. Other options might be an O-1 if you are of extraordinary ability or perhaps you might be eligible for an investors visa if you are the entrepreneurial type. For more information on what your options might be, visit our website at www.jfonglaw.com and fill out an intake form so we can help you decide your next move. --ecf

    January 18, 2011

    Starting a PERM Case?

    I've been fielding a lot of calls for PERM lately. I'm not sure if it's related to the fact that indications for the private sector and employment numbers are on the rise or if it's the beginning of a new year and everyone wants to start their permanent residency applications, or just what.

    Either way, I wanted to summarize just what it takes to start and submit a successful PERM application. PERM, which is the formal name for the Department of Labor's (DOL) foreign labor certification application, Form ETA 9089 - is a complicated process. Before an applicant even deals with the USCIS, an applicant's employer must conduct a formal recruitment campaign, setting out advertisements for the employment opportunity and only after weeks of advertising plus a 30-day quiet period, can a PERM application be submitted. A useful overview of the entire process can be found at our website: www.jfonglaw.com

    In the meanwhile, a lot of things must be achieved during this time: DOL's independent verification of the company's existence, a prevailing wage determination also by DOL, and of course, meticulous documentation of the advertisings and recruitment results. If all goes well, a PERM applicant may see their application lodged with the DOL some 2-4 months after starting the process. Current processing times once a labor certification has been submitted are surprisingly short right now. Our office recently received a labor certification approval within 2.5 weeks of submission. And while I can't ensure that this trend continues, it is a welcome surprise. I will explain the second and third stages to a PERM application in the next blog, so please check back in a couple of days. ---ecf

    August 31, 2010

    H-1B Quota: Slow and Steady Usage

    Yet another update to the H-1B quota, also known as the Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 H-1B cap.

    Approximately 34,900 cases have been receipted by USCIS for the regular Bachelor's degree H-1B quota.

    Approximately 13,000 cases have been receipted by USCIS for the advanced degree H-1B quota open to applicants who have earned Master's or higher degrees from US colleges and universities.

    Good luck to all H-1B applicants! ---ecf

    March 3, 2010

    Job Creation - Opportunities for Foreign Investors

    When the Senate advanced the job-creation bill last week, employers were given the signal that hiring tax incentives are on the horizon. Perhaps in a nod to the Administration's No. 1 priority of creating jobs for unemployed Americans, the USCIS has just announced a forum on the EB-5 immigrant investor program. In the last year, and as recently as December 2009, the USCIS issued updated guidance on I-526 and I-829 filings so that USCIS adjudications could make decisions with clarity and consistency, allowing investors to make job creation through the EB-5 program a reality soon as possible. These are all indications that this is the time for foreign investors to again bring private enterprise to our great nation.

    The upcoming USCIS EB-5 forum is only open to attorneys representing these so-called "million dollar investors." The Law Offices of J Craig Fong attorneys will be in attendance and ready to present concerns facing our clients as well as potential issues for those investors considering the EB-5 program.

    It is true that the EB-5 investors greencard process is often called "hypertechnical," and has in the past been plagued by administrative delay and inconsistent treatment. But I believe that the view of recent USCIS' actions, the agency is acknowledging just how critical the EB-5 investors program is to our nation's economic recovery. For each EB-5 investment, 10 full-time jobs must be created, and that means 10 more working Americans. Call Law Offices of J Craig Fong if you would like to discuss how you can start investing in America. ---ecf

    December 20, 2009

    HIV Ban Lifted

    Beginning January 4, 2010, applicants for visas or greencards will no longer be considered inadmissible for being HIV positive. Early last month, the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) removed HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) from the definition of a "communicable disease of public health significance."

    This marks a major success by immigration advocates like Law Offices of J Craig Fong and HIV/AIDS health advocates. J Craig Fong was cited in a recent Los Angeles Times article as one of the few immigration attorneys in the nation who work with HIV positive immigrants and who has been extremely successful in HIV waiver applications with the USCIS to overcome this ban.

    Law Offices of J Craig Fong applauds the Centers for Disease Control, the HHS, and USCIS in recognizing that the ban against nonimmigrant visa and permanent residency applications by HIV positive individuals was wrong. --ecf

    July 1, 2009

    Trying to Save the EB-5 Employment Creation Visa

    Because we are a law firm devoted exclusively to the practice of immigration law, Law Offices of J Craig Fong of Los Angeles gets calls frequently about the so-called "millionaire green card." The more accurate name for this would be the EB-5 Employment Creation Immigrant Visa, or just "EB-5." This sometimes controversial visa provides for conditional legal permanent resident status for persons who, after November 1990, invest $1 million (or in some cases $500,000) in a new business that employs ten US citizens (or certain other authorized workers) full-time and engage in that business through day-to-day management.

    There has been much criticism of the EB-5 visa; however, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officials declared in February 2009 their firm commitment to the success of the EB-5 program, acknowledging the value of the program to the US economy. The USCIS Ombudsman's office has made the following recommendations for the EB-5 program:

    1. Quickly finalize the Special Legislative Regulations, to alleviate the so-called "stuck" EB-5 investors who have been in limbo since 1995. Improperly documented cases can drag on for years.

    2. Adjudicators should be instructed not to continually readjudicate or re-examine the validity of previously approved economic methodologies and reports. Additionally, USCIS should strive for consistency in and among adjudicators for the EB-5 cases, so that outcomes can be more predictable.

    3. USCIS should issue more EB-5 published decisions, to provide guidance and predictability for attorneys and investors.

    4. Better rulemaking is critical, so that rules that have been developed to date can be memorialized.

    5. There should be an advisory panel to discuss issues affecting the EB-5 program. Participants should include representatives from Departments of Commerce, Treasury, State, Labor, and possibly the Small Business Administration.

    6. USCIS should create and offer an operationally-sound special handling option, similar to premium processing.

    7. USCIS should prioritize processing of Regional Center filings. Due to the amplified economic benefit of pooled investments for the Regional Center cases, an expedited track could be important during this economic downturn.

    8. There should be more active promotion of the EB-5 program.

    The EB-5 employment creation visa is a complex animal. If you are interested in applying for the EB-5 visa, please contact our office. --jcf